by Rachel Gould
In transitioning out of high school, many students feel as though they are moving from an everyday routine of the same generic classes to a tailored schedule that directly impacts their future. Here at FHU, professors strive to make their classes not only relevant and practical but also engaging, and Dr. Kenan Casey, chair of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, is one such professor.
Building on recent educational theories, Dr. Casey designed a flipped classroom to teach a short course on Java programming over the summer. In this model, the lectures were pre-recorded and available for student viewing online at anytime, while class time was reserved for hands-on experiences and exercises typically reserved for homework. This flipped format required students to enter the classroom pre-prepared and gave them the opportunity to learn the Java language with Dr. Casey close by. Students were overwhelmingly positive about this change in teaching style because as Dr. Casey points out, “Teaching should be about designing a learning experience…rather than just a vomiting out of information.”
In addition to the flipped class, Dr. Casey added another twist to the class when he designed the class project to be a practical and fun demonstration of learned skills: students wrote in Java to program digital robots to battle against each other. Each student created the artificial intelligence for his or her robot in order to control its actions for different situations it might encounter in the battle such as running into a wall or being shot. With these challenges in mind, the students programed their robots with one goal: avoid death.
On the day of the final showdown, the students gathered at Dr. Casey’s house to eat pizza and to celebrate the end of the course as they watched the battle. Grades were based on the points a robot gained. These points were awarded for hitting another robot and for the amount of time a robot stayed alive. Although the students’ work was complete at that point, Dr. Casey was pleased to listen to the critiques the students offered about their robots and the discussion about how to write a better code in the future. Those types of discussions are the sort that will fuel the students’ abilities to thrive in the workplace as they identify weaknesses in other codes and work to correct them.
If you are interested in Dr. Casey’s class, you can still access the lectures online through iTunes U. Simply open the iTunes store and search for Freed-Hardeman University. There, you’ll find Dr. Casey’s course under the title, Introduction to Java, and you can view it for free.